Happy Holiday: How to Plan a Ski Vacation

aspen highlands family

All smiles, all around. Looks like a perfect family vacation at Aspen Highlands.

brave ski mom logoSome people plan ahead. Just as summer is getting rolling, and I’m thinking about lying by a pool, or hopefully on a beach, I begin getting emails from readers asking for advice as they plan their upcoming winter holiday. I received this email in July:

Dear Brave Ski Mom,

A friend of mine from Boston is planning a ski trip to Colorado in March, and is looking for lodging that is ski-in, ski-out and convenient to the ski school. Do you have any suggestions?

Thanks a ton, Helpful Friend in Colorado

Of course, I did! I am always happy to offer suggestions. All you need to do is ask.

Also, if you’re in the midst of planning a ski vacation, here are some general questions to ask yourself, as you narrow down the wide world of possibilities.

Who Is Going?

little kids in snow

If little ones are going, choose a resort that offers what they need, too.

A family? A group of families? Adults only? Just women? Just men? Obviously, when you’re planning any trip, you need to know who is going. If children are coming, how old are they? What services, like childcare or ski school, will they need? If this is a girls’ trip, is it all about skiing or do you want shopping and spa, too? Guys? I have no idea what you do on your trips, but I’m thinking ski, drink beer, eat, repeat.

What kind of trip is this going to be?

Where Do You Want to Go?

Make a list of possible destinations that meet your basic criteria (for example, a mountain with a good ski school and family friendly ski-in/ski-out lodging). The world is full of amazing ski resorts and mountains, so ask your friends, family and neighbors for their recommendations.

If you’re looking for great family mountains, google “best family ski resorts.” Visit my site and read some of the ski reviews from around the world. Or, check out “Find The Best.” This website allows you to choose criteria, such as the services you want, the distance from your home and lift ticket prices. Put in your preferences and see what comes up!

How Will You Get There?

Are you flying or driving? Driving has some serious advantages in that you can take everything you might need, without any fees or having to rent equipment on the other end. You also can drive straight to the parking garage at your condo or hotel.

Flying, obviously, can take you anywhere. But, how much travel are you up for? How remote do you want to go? Do you want to fly into a city and be skiing the same day? Or, are you willing to fly and then drive or take ground transportation for several hours? How critical is it that you catch your return flight? One of the hazards of winter travel is that roads, and airports, sometimes close. If you have to be back for school or a meeting, you probably don’t want to pick a very remote resort.

Mountain or Mountains?

ski vacation with richard crested butte

Enjoying a perfect day with a friend from North Carolina — who happens to be on holiday!

Do you want to explore one big mountain, really get to know a smaller mountain or are you hoping to get a taste of many mountains on this vacation? Do you like to be constantly exploring or do you enjoy skiing a difficult run or face over and over until you’ve got it mastered? Take a look at the trail maps. See what type of terrain is available.

If you are near a major city, weekends can be very crowded. Having several mountains to choose from can help you avoid the crowds. Find out about lift tickets. Can you use the same multi-day ticket at several mountains or do you need separate tickets? Are there any deals (the Salt Lake City SuperPass comes to mind, and there are probably others) that let you pick and choose among the resorts?

What Amenities Do You Want?

billy kidd steamboat colorado

One of my favorite amenities: skiing with Billy Kidd at Steamboat.

What is necessary for each person to have a great vacation? Ski school for kids and/or adults? Childcare? Spa? Shopping? Fine dining? Fast food? A condo convenient to a supermarket? Solitude? Other activities such as cross-country skiing or tubing? A half-pipe and extensive terrain park? Or maybe NASTAR?  Rental equipment delivered to your door?

Everyone has ideas about what makes the perfect ski vacation. Think about what would be fun, aside from skiing or riding. Resorts and ski towns have a lot on offer from hot springs to alpine coasters.

Make a list of what you need and want. If your kids live for park, make sure there’s a park, and so on.

Most resorts have accredited ski schools (look for PSIA/AASI in the US), so you can expect good teachers using the latest techniques. Ski schools differ however in the number of kids they put with each instructor, the type of rental equipment they have available, the special events they offer (races, bbq lunches, and more). Read about their programs on-line and then call if you still have questions. Find a program that you think suits your child.

Where Will You Sleep?

Condo? Vacation home? Traditional ski lodge? Hotel? Motel? Do you want any meals included? Do you want to do some of your own cooking? Are you looking for ski-in/ski-out or do you mind driving or shuttling to the lifts? How far away is too far away?

ski day child

Where will you be when this one conks out? I like to be close to the condo.

On our ski adventures, we’ve stayed on-mountain and up to 50 miles away. It depends on where we are, who we are with and what we plan to do. My best advice for families with kids: Stay as close as you can. If a child gets tired, or wants to take a day off, it’s so much easier to tag team when you’re close.

When it comes to finding lodging, most resort websites have information. Some resorts own their lodging and you can find great deals, especially if you book early in the season.

There are also companies, such as Vacation Roost, that offer all types of lodging (including pet-friendly) and can act as a travel agent, helping you with everything from air service, to shuttles to equipment rentals and activities. Vacation Roost has over 150,000 vacation homes and rentals in 85 destinations, including Aspen/Snowmass and many other ski resorts. I haven’t used them – yet. But last year, we happened to be in Alta, staying at the lodge where they had their Christmas party and I can vouch for the fact that the Vacation Roost staff know how to live well!

Choosing a Mountain

hanging valley wall snowmass

Obviously, we like this mountain (Hanging Valley Wall, Snowmass, Colorado)

Really, choosing a ski resort is no different from choosing any other vacation destination. It comes down to finding somewhere that meets your needs and looks enticing. Maybe you went through all the steps outlined above. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you’re going back to your favorite mountain, to which you return year-after-year. Maybe you’re off on a grand adventure to try somewhere new.

No matter where you go, you’ll have fun. That’s the beauty of the ski holiday!


Related Posts: 

Ski Fashion: Packing Light and Looking Great

The Hard Stuff: Getting Your Ski Gear from Here to There

How to Compare Family Ski Resorts: Find the Best

This post includes a compensated link to Vacation Roost. As always, all opinions are my own and are exactly what I would tell my family and friends. 

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